What Would James Q. Wilson Have Told Mexico? (from Asia Times)

The sad news that James Q. Wilson no longer was with us came on March 3. In this week’s “Spengler” essay at Asia Times Online, I suggest that Mexico follow Wilson’s hugely successful philosophy of crime-fighting in its hitherto unsuccessful war on the drug cartels. Some excerpts:


No political scientist had more impact on the daily lives of Americans than James Q Wilson, who transformed American law enforcement. News of his death came on March 3. Rather than concentrate on kingpins, Wilson argued for controlling petty crime. His classic 1982 article “Broken Windows” argued that maintaining the perception of public order was a precondition for law enforcement; in practice, it implied that controlling petty crime was just as important as arresting the kingpins.

Mexico does what Wilson debunked a generation ago, that is, concentrate on kingpins. But after nearly 50,000 drug-related deaths in the last five years, the problem is worse than before. “The government’s focus on killing or detaining cartel leaders has led younger, more violent criminals into the market,” the New York Times wrote March 18 in a story on Mexican lawlessness…

Libertarians used to argue that arresting criminals was futile as long as crime paid, because there always would be someone willing to take the job; the only remedy, they added, was to legalize drugs, bring down the price and eliminate the economic incentive. The trouble is that the Mexican gangs do not restrict their predations to drugs, as the frightful incidence of kidnapping makes clear…

America has the world’s highest incarceration rate at 743 per 100,000 of population and holds a quarter of all the prison inmates in the world. And the prison population disproportionately includes minorities…The bad news is always the good news. There are fewer crimes because more criminals are in jail…

In 2010, one of Mexico’s most prominent public intellectuals, Enrique Krauze, compared today’s drug violence to the 1910 revolution, which killed 8% of the country’s people. He wrote, “Every 100 years, Mexico seems to have a rendezvous with violence. We are enduring another violent crisis, albeit one that differs greatly from those of a century and two centuries ago…

If it is to break the hold of criminal gangs on many of its cities, Mexico has no choice but to take a page from James Q Wilson’s book. To undertake the Herculean labor of suppressing criminality from the bottom will have terrible consequences, as in Enrique Krauze’s chilling analogy to the 1910 Revolution. The only thing worse is the alternative. It is not enough to arrest the drug lords; it is also necessary to attrite the ranks of their gunmen. How much will it cost? If you have to ask what it costs, you can’t afford to be a country.


The whole essay can be found here.


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